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WCMA Announces Full Slate of Cheese Industry Leaders to be Feted at 2017 Conference

MADISON, WI – The Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA) Board of Directors has selected eight individuals to be recognized at the Wisconsin Cheese Industry Conference in April 2017 for their outstanding work in the dairy manufacturing industry.

 “The multi-billion dollar cheese industry in the United States was built on high-quality products – made by the very best people.  It’s important that we recognize those men and women for the way they’ve contributed to our industry’s tremendous success,” said John Umhoefer, WCMA Executive Director.  “The 2017 honorees are an especially deserving group, and we’re pleased to show them our appreciation.”

 Ken Heiman is set to receive the association’s highest honor: the WCMA Life Member Award.  WCMA has offered the Life Member Award since 1918, and Heiman will be the 85th recipient.  The award recognizes people who have played a significant role in the success of the association through leadership, support, and service to this institution and its activities.

Ken Heiman

As a licensed cheesemaker for the past 48 years and a Master Cheesemaker for the past ten, Heiman has been a driving force in the growth of Nasonville Dairy, which now averages more than $140 million in annual sales.  Ken is known for his passion for the dairy industry, and gives back through his active membership in the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association and in his work with the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

 Greg Dryer, formerly of Saputo Cheese USA, and Dallas Wuethrich of Grassland Dairy will be named the 2017 WCMA Cheese Industry Champions, awards that are given only to industry leaders who, through their everyday business decisions, have created tremendous opportunity for others.

Greg Dryer

Earlier this year, Dryer retired from Saputo as its Senior Vice President of Industry & Government Relations.  In his more than 35-year career in the cheese industry, Dryer demonstrated his commitment through his many volunteer positions, as President of the American Dairy Products Institute, and as a member of the boards of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, the National Cheese Institute, the Dairy Institute of California, the U.S. Dairy Export Council, and the California Creamery Operators Association.

Dallas Wuethrich

As a member of the third generation of a five generation family of award-winning buttermakers, Dallas Wuethrich serves as President of Grassland Dairy in Greenwood, Wisconsin.  Thanks in large part to his leadership over the past four decades, Grassland has grown from a regional creamery to a worldwide supplier of dairy products, supplying one-third of all U.S. butter.  Wuethrich has long been an active member of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association and was a founding member of the Wisconsin Dairy Products Association, as well as its President in 1982. He also held officer positions on the Boards of the American Butter Institute and Central Wisconsin Cheese and Buttermakers Association.

 The WCMA Distinguished Service Award, reserved for respected and highly-valued supplier partners to the cheese manufacturing industry, will go to Ralph Millerbernd of Millerbernd Process Systems and Allan Ver Voort of Ecolab.  This award is unique in that WCMA allows members to vote on prospective honorees; this year, a record 788 votes were cast, with the majority going to Millerbernd and Ver Voort.

 Ralph Millerbernd

Ralph Millerbernd grew up working in the family fabrication business where they developed cheese handling and lactose equipment and farm equipment. Buying the business in 1971, Millerbernd then developed the equipment and processes for 640 lb. block production.  In recent years, Millerbernd has expanded offerings to the dairy industry to include blockformers, cheese belts, process engineering services and a full controls and automation division.  Millerbernd retired in the late 1990s.

 Allan Ver Voort

For more than 40 years, Allan Ver Voort has been in the food sanitation business, first with Monarch Chemicals then with Ecolab – Food and Beverage.  He also worked as a food inspector for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture for five years.  Ver Voort’s professional passion lies in helping cheese manufacturers improve their finished product quality and bottom line through chemical, effluent, energy and time savings projects. He has led numerous short courses at the Center for Dairy Research, the UW Food Science Department and through the Wisconsin Association of Food Protection.  Ver Voort has served on committees and the Board of Directors for a number of Wisconsin dairy industry organizations including the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, Wisconsin Association of Food Protection, Wisconsin Dairy Products Association and Wisconsin Field Representatives Association.

 WCMA has also created two new awards for 2017: The Babcock Award for outstanding dairy industry educators and The Vanguard Award for innovation in dairy processing.

 The Babcock Award is, of course, named for Stephen Babcock, the famed agricultural chemist and University of Wisconsin professor credited with developing a method to determine the butterfat content of milk, a test which helped to establish Wisconsin as a dairy leader.  The award recognizes the contributions of those in education or affiliate organizations to partner with cheesemakers in the pursuit of dairy industry innovation and excellence.  It its inaugural year, this award will be bestowed on Dr. Bob Bradley of the University of Wisconsin.

 Dr. Bob Bradley

Dr. Bob Bradley is Emeritus Professor at the University of Wisconsin Food Science Department, having spent his career researching and advancing food products development, ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis, and frozen dessert technology.  He is active in the American Dairy Science Association, Association of Official Analytical Chemists, International Association for Food Protection, and Wisconsin Dairy Technology Society.  He is also well-known for his publication, “Better Butter.”

 The Vanguard Award is intended to recognize cheesemakers or cheese manufacturing employees whose work helped to blaze new trails in dairy operations.  In 2017, this new award will be given to Ken Leitner, formerly of Alto Dairy, and Leo Zehren, formerly of Lake-to-Lake.

 Ken Leitner

Ken Leitner spent his entire career in the Wisconsin cheese industry, working at Lake-to-Lake Dairy, Bangor Cheese, Alto Dairy, Clover Cream Dairy, and Beatrice Cheese, before returning to Alto Dairy, from which he retired in 2000. Leitner is an accomplished cheesemaker of American and Italian cheeses, with broad knowledge of whey evaporation, sweet whey drying and dairy wastewater treatment.  He is credited with implementing the first CIP whey separator, the first curd table for matting Cheddar, the first milk Vacu-Therm, the first Stoelting cheddaring machine, and the first 640 cheddar along with the Dick Leitner and Grant Krueger group.

 Leo Zehren

Leo Zehren is a third -generation cheesemaker, growing up in the apartment above White Lily Cheese Factory in rural Shiocton, Wisconsin.  Leo received his cheesemaking license at age 16.  After earning his degree in Dairy and Food Science from the University of Wisconsin and serving the U.S. Army as a Ballistic Meteorologist, Leo formed a partnership with his brother, John, to own Tracy Corner Cheese Factory in Bonduel. In 1967, Zehren became Assistant Plant Manager at Lake-to-Lake Dairy Cooperative butter/powder plant in Denmark, Wisconsin.  Two years later, he was named Plant Manager, and converted the facility to a 640# cheddar cheese plant.  Zehren led the 1998 transition of production from cheddar to mozzarella.  For more than three decades, Zehren made award-winning cheese, and in 1997, received the prestigious H.P. Malloy Award.  He also served on the original Board of Directors for the development of the Master Cheesemaker program.  Leo was proud to mentor ten of his supervisors to become plant managers within the cheese industry.  In retirement, Leo has volunteered abroad, assisting cheesemakers in developing countries with plant sanitation and cheese aging projects.

 Awards will be delivered to honorees at the Wisconsin Cheese Industry Conference Recognition Breakfast on Thursday, April 13.  For more information or to register to attend this event, please visit www.cheeseconference.org or call WCMA at 608-828-4550.